‘Out of the Question’ – A new youth apologetics resource – by Gareth Crispin

Gareth Crispin is the Youth, children & Families Minister at an Anglican Church in Cheshire.  He is passionate about equipping Christian young people to give a reason for the hope that they have.

 

It has perhaps never been harder for Christian teens and young adults to stand up for Jesus in their schools, colleges and communities. If they do stick their head above the parapet, they can receive a barrage of questions from several different directions at once! How should they respond? How can youth leaders, churches, and parents give them the tools to deal with these situations?

There are several great resources already out there which can be used to help but a new initiative is being launched which does something unique.

Out of the Question is a series of animations which, rather than giving answers to remember, give tools to use to equip teens and young adults to defend their faith. It’s unique because it combines humorous animated media with a narrative form. This is done through a question-based approach.

Animation is a great way to communicate, teens and young adults love the format and you can do things in animation which simply aren’t possible with other media. The narrative form means that the apologetic tools and arguments are weaved into a story that makes them both immediately more accessible (especially for those who are less bookish) and applicable; young people can see how a conversation might go.

These are conversations, because of the question-based approach taken. Questions help us understand what lies behind what’s being asked of us. They give us understanding of the person as well as the argument, they show that we care what they think, and they invite discussion while also buying a bit of time for our heart rate to slow! Even more important than all those, out of a question comes something very significant for Christian young people: the opportunity to move from the back foot to the front foot, to help people see that no-one is neutral. This is one of the most powerful aspects of this animated series; it helps train young people to see that everyone has a faith position and needs to be able to justify that position, even atheists.

The Out of the Question series is due for release in May this year and will be free to download from our website. Because of that we need all our funding up front and we still need a final slice of money. So why not watch the trailer and if you like it, spread the word so we can finish off this great project for release in May!

Check out the video below.

5 forms of criticism that I’ll always ignore… or try to!

Exactly a year ago I wrote a post called ‘7 Ways Not To Complain To Your Youth Worker’. As a result I received comments and messages from other youth leaders that had gone through the same things. Some of the stories they shared were just heartbreaking.

This made me realise that we’re not done with this topic yet.

Critique is vital to health; it’s so important to have an objectivity about the work that we do, and a humble perspective on the difference between ‘God’s’ work and ‘ours.’ We need to keep ourselves accountable to trusted, godly men and women who will feedback with clarity and gentleness on our ministries. We need to be open to challenge so that we can truly grow as teachable and dependable ministers of the gospel.

Without an openness to healthy critique, we are just asking to fail.

However…

What do you do when the feedback is poorly given, ill-conceived, spiritually dangerous, or just personally stupid?

I don’t mean what do you do if you don’t like or agree with the feedback. There’s lots of stuff that we won’t like or agree with that will contain nuggets of truth that we need to listen to. This is a post, however, on how to identify feedback that needs to be left by the door.

I recently (ish) received some ‘feedback’ that was hurtful and – frankly – just wrong. As a result I spoke to some friends that I genuinely trust for their perspective – trying to find out if there was some truth that I couldn’t hear because of my upset. One of these guys said to me that he believed some feedback was a form of abuse, and needed to be disregarded quickly before it stuck.

Some critique must not be allowed room to breath.

So I’ve called this ‘5 forms of criticism that I’ll always ignore.’ A more honest title however, would be ‘5 forms of criticism that I’ll try to ignore’ or ‘5 forms of criticism that I really really should ignore.’ The truth is I’m human, and if you get punched to the gut, it hurts!

Hopefully, however, we can all team up on this, and support each other by identifying some kinds of criticism that really don’t need to be taken seriously. If there are nuggets of truth, we need to pray and ask God to reveal those to us in healthy ways that we can action unconditionally. Some feedback, however, needs to be named and shamed, and not even given time of day.

1. Hostage feedback

This is feedback that won’t let you off the hook. It’s forceful, repetitive, and needs very specific agreements. Feedback that holds you hostage usually comes in the form of a conversation that’s impossible to leave. ‘Thank you very much, I’ll go away think about it’ just doesn’t work.

When someone holds you hostage to their feedback, they’re expecting very particular agreements to what they’re saying, and very specific and immediate appropriation of their suggestions. It’s all on their terms. The ransom is only paid in complete submission and total surrender to their opinion.

If the person giving you feedback doesn’t respond appropriately to your need to go away and process it, then – rudely if necessary – turn and walk away.

2. Delivered via gossip

Thirdhand, or ‘gossip’ feedback, is when someone is hoping you’ll hear their criticism without getting their fingerprints on it. Criticism via gossip means they have spoken to everyone but you. The most hideous form of this is when it arrives on your doorstep via your wife, your husband, or your kids.

Gossip is an issue that needs to be tackled at the pastor level; however it is worth identifying the source, approaching them directly, and getting them to tell you their problem eye-to-eye. It’s always important to call gossip out, otherwise it festers and continues.

3. Without proper examination

I recently received feedback from someone I’ve never spoken to before that questioned my very relationship with God after they walked out of my session three minutes in. Not only did they leave with the exact opposite point that was delivered, but they made huge assumptions and bold assertions with very little information. There was no questions, no listening, and no attempt to understand. It was an attack – quite literally – on nonexistent content.

This particular feedback was given in anger (which isn’t always a problem) and was fuelled by significant misunderstanding. In this case I really struggled to let it go as it called my faith in God to account. So I sent my recorded talk to several friends who are theologically solid and not afraid to challenge me. They left with the opposite impression than the person who left early. Their feedback suggested a personal trigger, rather than a problem in the content.

If any feedback given doesn’t flow from the information that was available, then it’s probably fuelled by something else – something that’s personal to the individual. Don’t digest it – it’s probably not about you.

4. Overgeneralised and unspecific feedback

‘You’re always doing this’, or ‘you’ve never been like that’, or even ‘that project you run is total shambles!’ I’ve had all three of those.

Feedback, and especially criticism, needs to be given in love with the hope of edification and correction. This means it needs prior thought and careful steps before delivery. Usually overgeneralised and unspecific feedback means there is simply a difference of opinion – maybe they just don’t like you!

My response is usually ‘sorry, I can’t work with that, can you bring me a particular circumstance or tell me a specific example.’ If they can’t – leave it behind.

5. Overreaching feedback

2+2 equals a sack of bananas, right? Overreaching feedback points to a problem, then makes a totally inappropriate conclusion. Like someone saying you need to rethink your relationship with God… because there was a broken window at youth club.

In a previous position, someone complained in our eldership meeting that I didn’t want to go on their suggested safeguarding course. Their conclusion was that it was inappropriate for the church to hire a youth worker who wasn’t trained in safeguarding. Of course I had done lots safeguarding training, I just didn’t like the particular flavour of the course they were suggesting.

Feedback should flow between problem, consequence, and solution. If there is serious disconnect, then disregard.

But what if they’re right?!?

And here is my big problem! I don’t disregard a lot of feedback that comes in these various ways because I want to be open to change and growth. I don’t want to be a feedback snob! And there could be valid criticism buried beneath all that goop!

However, I have my whole life the work on problems, and I know that my work is held accountable to people who’ve earned the right to speak into it. I’ve regularly got things to work on, and all of my work is held accountable to a manager, a board, a team, good friends, and committed mentors. This affords me the space to be discerning about when feedback is given inappropriately.

So don’t be afraid feedback – surround yourself with people who love you, are smarter than you, and are not afraid to hold you accountable. If you have a system in place for healthy criticism you won’t need to jump at every wagging finger.

In a future post we will consider these five areas again, but in reverse – and talk about more appropriate ways to give feedback.

Thanks for reading!

Photo by James Pond on Unsplash

Why we need Sync – a new resource from Youth For Christ – by Grace Wheeler

Grace Wheeler is the National Evangelist at Youth for Christ. You can explore the free Sync resources here and see the Youtube channel here.

 

As a communicator, one of the things I’ve always used to connect with people is stories. I tell stories about dogs, about inspiring people, but mostly about me! This is not because I love myself, it’s because I know me best and when I share something of my life it connects with my audience.

Stories are powerful.

I don’t know about you, but I can remember the stories I read as a child, curled up with my mum on the sofa or fighting sleep as I settled down for the night. And I do so for a very good scientific reason. When we hear stories, our brain secretes powerful chemicals: cortisol, which makes us pay attention, oxytocin (the same hormone that bonds mother and baby), which makes us feel empathy for the story’s characters, and dopamine (the chemical abused by ‘fun enhancing’ substances), which makes us feel good when there is a happy ending. Moreover, brain scans during storytelling reveal that the same chemical patterns are observed in both teller’s and hearer’s brains. It’s as if you sync your mind to the other person’s using the power of story. It’s as if Jesus knew what he was doing when he used parables to communicate the deep truths of the cosmos.

And in youth culture stories resonate even more. When you use Snapchat or Insta these days you are not just invited to capture a moment in time but to tell a story. Our music videos and computer games have evolved. The story is central to them.

‘It’s as if you sync your mind to the other person’s using the power of story.’

What does this have to do with evangelism?

Recently I have been captivated by the idea that in evangelism, three stories collide. We have a story, God has a story, and our friend who does not yet know Jesus also has a story. Great evangelism is about bringing these stories together through the power of relationship. One of the first steps here is to know your own story.

Purpose, forgiveness, friendship, belonging, change, hope, life, love, adventure, guidance, mission. All these words help young people tell a story of the difference Jesus makes in their life. St Peter writes, ‘Always be prepared to give an answer to anyone who asks you to give a reason for the hope that you have’ (1 Peter 3:15). One of the best things we can do for our young people is to prepare them to tell their story.

As an evangelist, I am compelled by the idea that if every Christian young person knew their story, God’s story, was praying for a few mates, and was committed to intentional relationships with those around them – then the viral potential for the Gospel could be unleashed in a new way. That’s why at Youth for Christ we have created Sync, a Youtube channel to help young people know their story and be inspired to share it. I would love you to check it out and run it for free with your young people.

A different way to evangelise – Guest post by Jonny Price

Another quality and thoughtful piece by guest blogger, Jonny Price. Jonny is an experienced youth worker with keen insights and clear vision for the future of Christian youth work in the UK.

I remember clearly when my faith became an exciting prospect for me.
I had been a Christian for about 5 years, and was travelling in Australia for a few months. Someone had very kindly given me an audiobook on CD (I know, I’m old) of Rob Bell’s Velvet Elvis. This was at the height of Rob’s influence in the Christian world, back before the cliff edge that Love Wins became.

I was on a train from Sydney to Newcastle, a journey of around 3 hours, and was listening, when something Rob said jumped out and grabbed me;

“I’m convinced being generous is a better way to live. I’m convinced forgiving people and not carrying around bitterness is a better way to live. I’m convinced having compassion is a better way to live. I’m convinced pursuing peace in every situation is a better way to live. I’m convinced listening to the wisdom of others is a better way to live. I’m convinced being honest with people is a better way to live.”

During all the time I had been a Christian I had never heard anyone speak about Christianity like this. It was all about personal salvation, it was all to do with the cross and forgiveness. It was about what happened after death, I couldn’t recall anyone saying that it was about living before that.

This feeling has come back to me recently as I have been thinking about the way that we evangelise, and more generally, about how we talk about faith in the Church.

It seems that we are obsessed with the death of Jesus, but can take or leave His life.

Please don’t misunderstand me. I believe that the death and resurrection of Jesus are absolutely non-negotiable in any understanding of orthodox Christianity, but in focusing so clearly on the end of Jesus’ life, I believe that we have missed something significant. If we can redress this balance, I think there are three significant impacts we could see:

1. It shows us the best way to be Human

Through His life Jesus shows us the best way to be human, the best way to be an image bearer of God. He shows us a better way to live.

For a while now Christianity has been plagued by a version of humanism, the idea that human reason and logic are all that is needed for a better world. Some parts of Christianity have taken this idea, and said that because we are image bearers, we are able to make this a better world in our own strength.

The problem with this is that it is untrue, it is not our idea of image bearing that matters, but what Jesus shows us about being image bearers.

2. It reminds us we are called to build God’s Kingdom

If we can call young people to a better way to live, as well as to salvation beyond, then we can help to grow excitement in them for building God’s Kingdom on Earth.

This ties into an ancient tradition in the Jewish faith, of tzedekah and mishpat. These literally mean righteousness and justice, but in their Jewish forms, evoke ideas of righteousness as something given by God, and of going from retributive justice to restorative justice.

If a young person makes a commitment to Christianity at age forteen, there is a lot of life still to live between their commitment and the results of their salvation. But if that same young person is taught about tzedekah and mishpat, then they can see how their life can tie into this incredible, rich tapestry of people building the Kingdom of God. They can live for a purpose greater than any other.

3. We can make our evangelism more effective.

Millennials and post-millennials are keen to make the world a better place. They want to see equality in wealth, health, education, standards of living, and gender. They want to see peace.

And Christianity has an umbrella for all of these ideas to come under. If we can show people hungry for change that all of these causes can fit into the Kingdom, then think what a different picture that paints of the Church.

It ceases to be an institution desperate to serve and save itself, and becomes a movement that seeks to serve others. It becomes something people want to be a part of.

Final thoughts

Jesus died for the sins of the world, but let’s not forget that He lived a life as well. His life was more than a way to get to the cross, it was to show us how to live as image bearers, how to be Kingdom builders, and how to seek after His righteousness and justice, putting others before ourselves.

Jesus did die for us, but he also lived for us. Let’s not sit around waiting for heaven, but live fully alive just like Jesus did.

 

Jonny Price is the Youth and Children’s Ministry Leader for a Clifton Parish Churches in the North of beautiful York, where he lives with his wife, Carly, and son, Ethan.

When time allows he can be found cycling, either road or mountain, cooking or reading.

He holds a BA (Hons) in Mission and Ministry with a specialism in Youth from Cliff College, and is currently studying for an MA.

He loves Jesus and the Church, and wants to see the Church work to help young people live transformed lives by experiencing the redeeming love of Jesus.

The Youth Ministry Idol of New

Youth Ministry sits on the the cutting edge of contemporary missionary theory, and fresh expressions of church theology. We pride ourselves on being innovators, creatives, and revolutionaries.

Throw a new year into the mix and we have a skittish spasm of fresh ideas, along with a fidgety, impatient sense of ‘let’s change everything – right now!’

The new year then, is often the time that we change all the programs, layouts, teaching themes, leaders, logos – everything. We support this random change of track by pointing out that youth culture itself changes every five minutes, and that we have a missional responsibility to be on trend or even ahead of the curve. We need to stay fresh, or we’ll go stale.

We do like new don’t we? Hence the postmodern mantra, new year, new me.

This should leave us with a pertinent question though: What was wrong with the old me?

When it comes to our personal new year resolutions the answers might come easily. I’m too out of shape, too disorganised, too isolated, too social, etc. ‘I gotta fix all of the toos.’ Sure, it’s great to work on self improvement, but it’s also easy to forget that we just spent a whole year teaching on the value of identity in Christ, which just isn’t caught up in these things. Mixed signals perhaps?

When it comes to youth ministry, these mixed signals go into a blender. We – sometimes completely tactlessly – take all that we and our teams have poured our lives into, screw it into a ball, and start all over again. All for the sake of something new.

When you start something new to replace something you’ve been doing a while you create some baggage, and leave a wake of confusion. What, for instance, happens to the legacy of your ministry, the value of the hours of tears and hard work that went into it, or the period of necessary settling before an idea really starts to work? What happens to the planning that went into it, the prophecies that were given, and the scriptures that were quoted?

When you keep starting something ‘new’ for the frank sake of ‘being new’ you consistently devalue what was before.

The thing is though, God works with journeys, with time, and with settlement. He honours toil and dedication, and he loves constancy and consistency. Oddly, these are all the things young people value too.

Sometimes we do need to make big changes to our youth ministries, and sometimes we need to start something completely new, but there should be a lot of caveats first, such as:

  • Did we really give this time to settle and form?
  • Are we adding yet another shaky inconsistency into our teenagers lives?
  • Have we properly identified, addressed, and worked the real issues?
  • Are we properly resourced for this ‘new’ thing?
  • Did we bring everyone with us?
  • Did we try to bring people with us?
  • Are we avoiding a real issue by bouncing off it?

New can be an idol. In a Youth Ministry world of fresh ideas, cool stories, and funky logos it’s all too easy for us to be caught up and surrender the high ground of constancy, for the rivers of scatterbrained change.

Let’s send down some roots this year – give our world, our projects, and our people the time they need and deserve to form and settle. Let’s seek fresh encounters with God where we are at, with who we are with.

Let’s maybe give the old a chance before jumping to the new.